Against the grain : a cultural history of the making of wood

Briffa, Sancha (2015) Against the grain : a cultural history of the making of wood. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis acknowledges the role of the designer and design in constructing and communicating the meanings that become attached to materials. This critically engaged study of wood is informed by Roland Barthes's semiological analysis and seeks to expose the myth of wood as a natural material. It demonstrates that complex technical and cultural processing result in a series of connoted meanings becoming attached to wood. By referring to Jean Baudrillard's distinct 'Phases of the image' (in Simulacra and Simulation, 1981) it is able to question critically examples that include the use of wood in the work of twentieth century and contemporary artists and designers. It asks whether the role of wood in the examples presented is to reflect reality, mask reality, mask the absence of reality or ultimately to reject reality altogether. The thesis is organised into a series of eight interconnected thematic chapters that present an essentially industrialised understanding of wood. It concludes that wood is a tremendously varied material, able to describe its substance at its surface. In spite of its variety, a simplified graphic depiction of wood benefits from the cultural understanding of the material that has been developed over a lengthy period of time, during which the product of the natural landscape has become cultivated and commodified.

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